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Climate and Environment

While Companies Settle On $45M Payout for OC Oil Spill, Our Coastline Is Still Recovering

A yellow pipeline lies on a coastal line on a beach. A bird walks on the oily water surface.
A long-billed curlew walks through oily water near a containment boom in Newport Beach on Oct. 3, 2021.
(David McNew
AFP via Getty Images)
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The shipping companies partly responsible for the 2021 oil spill off the coast of Orange County will be paying out $45 million to business and property owners impacted, tied to a settlement announced this week, A judge still needs to sign off on that agreement.

But while companies have paid out money for some damages, it’s going to take time before we can declare our coastline “recovered.”

About the disaster

In October 2021, about 25,000 gallons of crude oil gushed from an underwater oil pipeline just off the coast of Orange County after it was damaged by anchors from passing ships. Oil from the spill spread as far north as Long Beach and as far South as Tijuana.

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Studying the damage

A large oval drawn over water and land off the coast of Orange county California shows the area affected by a 2021 oil spill
Area assessed for damage. Yellow dot marks location of oil spill.
(Courtesy National Resource Trustees)

In the immediate aftermath of the spill, birds were found covered in oil and fish had been killed. Over time, less obvious evidence of damage has continued to emerge.

For instance, after all of the oil-covered kelp was removed from the beaches, the populations of invertebrates — like sand fleas and other arthropods — dependent on it for food, are believed to have declined. That’s a problem because birds eat those tiny little bugs.

The extent of the damage, and the best course of recovery, is still being evaluated by a group of trustees made up of both state and federal agencies.

Who pays for recovery

Amplify Energy, the owner of the oil platform, is responsible for paying the costs.

Michael Anderson from the Office of Spill Prevention and Response within the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says those costs come down to:

“Whatever you’ve injured, you have to rehabilitate and restore that specific resource. So, if 300 pelicans were killed by a spill, we need to replace or improve the habitat for 300 pelicans.”
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